Do You Know Where Your Child's Photos Are Being Stored?
Tammy Anson
21 June 2018

Those familiar with The Incredibles movie know Edna Mode; the eccentric fashion designer whose questions challenge heroes to grow and change (for the better). Consider Edna’s intriguing question, “Do you know where he is?” (using that wonderful Japanese-German accent!). A great question to ask right now about your child’s photos.

More digital photos are taken every day so how do we keep control of them all, when sharing online can mean literally sharing with the entire universe!? How do we protect them, and can we be sure they are stored appropriately – now and for future generations?

Even if we know the names of the services we use to manage our photos, I am guessing most of us don’t really know where in the world all that data is being stored. Is “the Cloud” that we casually reference a local one, based in the USA, Ukraine or somewhere else? In a 2013 UNSW whitepaper on data sovereignty, it was reported that as many as 71% of Australians using Cloud services were unaware that data may be stored overseas. The fact is that most photo storage solutions cannot promise to store and backup all data here in Australia, which means that if you ever have a problem don’t go crying to our Australian courts as they won’t be able to help.

Additionally, most Cloud services offer little transparency over whether photos shared and stored by their platforms are being used for only the purposes we believe we have signed up for. By agreeing to the Terms set out by some Cloud services, many of us have unwittingly signed away all rights to our photos for more convenience and “better service”.

Why Should You Care?

While we appear to be receiving convenience and seamless service from these companies in exchange for our apparent indifference to their Terms, we are also seeing very real lifelong problems emerge, especially for our kids.

A life of commercial surveillance is very much the norm for kids today. Think about how your child’s life is monitored every day at school and at home using communication technologies, learning and gaming apps, email and other accounts and, of course, social media. Add to this how many photos and videos are taken of them, and by whom? Where are those photos or videos being kept? What rights do others have over them? Are they then accessible to third parties? What are the third parties then doing with them?

I read only yesterday a very shocking case of an 8-year-old girl in the UK who had been subjected to revenge-based image abuse. Interestingly, of the 277 cases reported: “most cases didn’t reach court because of victims not supporting prosecutions”. Pure and simple: making these cases public is too embarrassing for victims.

Another growing problem which is often overlooked is child identity theft. Adult identity theft is a big business and is reaching “epidemic level”. Identity theft of children is growing at a very concerning rate. In 2017, over 1 million children globally were affected by this type of theft, with families paying over US$540 million out of pocket. Even more frightening are the statistics that minors who were bullied online were 9 times more likely to be victims of fraud than minors who were not bullied.

Three Questions to Ask Your School

Although public Cloud technologies are being heavily adopted in most schools in Australia- mainly due to cost-effectiveness – there are perhaps safer alternatives available when storing personal data.

I was advised when building our solution to support schools in photo management 7 years ago to use a private Cloud and local data centres to guarantee our customer data would be solely kept in Australia. As a privacy by design outcome for our platform, this aspect was very important to me.

Using a private Cloud means data storage is maintained by an individual company, and its infrastructure is dedicated entirely to a business that’s hosted either on-site or in the service provider’s data centre. Using a private Cloud provides all the agility, scalability and efficiency of a public Cloud, but with a greater level of control and security, making it a better option for any business who has strict regulatory and governance obligations for data, particularly the personal stuff. Storing data in a local private Cloud data centre helps maintain control over where personal information is stored so you never have to fight for your client’s rights for privacy in an overseas court. And the cost of using a private Cloud over a public one is on par. In fact, a 451 Research study found that 41% of IT decision makers felt their private Cloud implementation was cheaper than that of a “like for like” public Cloud solution.

Ask your school 3 simple questions:

  1. Which public Cloud provider does the school use, and can they share their privacy policies?
  2. Is the provider collecting and/or sharing your child’s personal information beyond what is being collected for educational purposes? If so, why?
  3. Does the provider disclose any of your child’s personal information to its partners or third parties in the normal course of business? What are the privacy practices of those businesses?

Our kids are vulnerable and need our protection.

When I speak to schools and parents about this issue, I have discovered that many are still unaware that photos are personal information (and that privacy laws in Australia have rules about this). We all need to recognise that photos and videos need to be well-guarded and protected – especially those of our kids. They ought to be managed with the same consideration given to a physical passport or birth certificate.

If you feel concerned about the Cloud and other technologies being deployed at your child’s school, you can (and should) be proactive about it.

I'm part of the team at pixevety, a new consent-driven photo management platform for schools and families focused on child digital identity protection.